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    "That's Very Zen" Paid Member

    “The Zen of what?”“Harmonica,” she said.“That’s what I thought you said.” I was standing outside the door of a classroom at a New Age center in New York. The woman in question had just emerged from a room where twenty or thirty people were jumping up and down, all playing the harmonica at once. I was taking a break from the writing workshop I was giving next door. “What kind of Zen do you teach?” she asked. More »
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    How the Buddha Got Ism-ed Paid Member

    Dwight Eisenhower, a president not particularly remembered for his wit, once remarked that “all isms are wasms.” He was presumably referring, rather presciently, to the largely forgotten isms that were once perceived as a threat to truth, justice, and the American way: socialism and communism. But his remark points to the vaguely pejorative quality of “ism,” which suggests something that someone else believes in but will eventually abandon when they see the error of their ways. Where there is the one true faith—Christianity, for example—its rivals are isms of one kind or another. In the seventeenth century, only four religions were identified in the world: Christianity, Judaism, Muhammadanism, and Paganism (also known as idolatry). The history of the academic study of religion is in one sense a process of replacing Paganism with a larger list of isms: Hinduism, Confucianism, Taoism, Shintoism, Sikhism, and Buddhism. More »
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    Freedom's Just Another Word Paid Member

    IN THE LATE SIXTIES JANIS JOPLIN'S voice rallied the bedraggled front lines of the cultural revolution with the refrain from "Me and Bobby McGee": "Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose." As she sang, the United States was committed to an unjust war, race riots had some cities in flames and every city on edge, and psychedelic drugs promised salvation from personal despair through sex, love, and ecstatic communion. For Janis and her fans, freedom from convention, freedom from parental and societal restraint, freedom from everything already labeled, categorized, and institutionalized was pursued with an urgency far surpassing that of the United States military fighting to keep Vietnam "free" from communism. More »